How to Hire an Administrative Assistant for Your Consulting Business

Dec 09, 2022

Table of contents

Introduction

As an independent consultant, what is your plan for hiring an administrative assistant?

  • Do you know what milestones you want to hit in your business before you hire an assistant?
  • Do you know what would constitute hiring an administrative assistant too late?
  • Do you know why you’re not hiring an administrative assistant now?
  • Have you made an explicit decision about your hiring plans?

If you don’t know the answers, you’re not alone.

Most independent consultants don’t know the answers to these questions.

Most independent consultants either:

  • Defer hiring an administrative assistant because they don’t want to spend the money
  • Or don’t consider hiring an assistant because they assume they haven’t reached a point where one is required or justified

If you don’t have a specific plan for hiring an administrative assistant for your consulting business, it’s easy to:

  • Never give yourself permission to get help with those repeatable, transferable tasks you can do (but also that someone else can do for you),
  • End up using your valuable capacity on low-value tasks, and,
  • Ultimately risk burning out

I know this was the case for me, when I was growing my independent consulting business. I never seriously considered hiring an assistant because:

  • I didn’t want to spend money on work I was capable of doing.
  • I also assumed hiring an assistant was more trouble than it was worth. I enjoyed working alone and didn’t want to manage anyone else.
  • And, I didn’t think I was important or advanced enough to hire an assistant, even though I was making multiple six figures in my business and juggling so many business and personal responsibilities.

But eventually, I hit a wall.

I was trying to do everything myself - from client delivery, to business development, to invoicing.

And, I was dropping balls (mostly on invoicing), that resulted in delayed cash flow and in some cases missed opportunities to invoice for work I’d done outside the contract but didn’t realize until it was too late.

I knew something had to change for my business.

Mostly, I knew that I needed help with invoicing and scheduling to start, so I didn’t continue making these costly mistakes AND so I could relieve some of the emotional overhead created by the growing list of tasks that needed to get done and that I was procrastinating.

What is an administrative assistant?

An administrative assistant is someone you hire to assist you in your independent consulting business. Oftentimes, especially as a former corporate employee, you might think that only CEOs of bigger companies have administrative or executive assistants, or that you would need to wait to bring on an administrative assistant until you need them full-time.

But, these are assumptions based on your past, employee-based thinking.

You’re a business owner now.

You can “hire” anyone you want, whenever you want, and however you want (...well, in accordance with laws of course).

So, consider an administrative assistant can be someone who supports you for a few hours a week or a few hours a month. It doesn’t have to be that traditional assistant model you’re most familiar with from your corporate days.

What does an administrative assistant do?

An administrative assistant can support you with a wide range of tasks. It’s key to identify the work that doesn’t require your specific skills, and consider delegating that to an administrative assistant.

You might consider hiring an assistant that is a generalist, and can support you with a wide range of tasks.

Or, you might want to hire several specialists who will support you in the areas where they have more specialized knowledge (e.g. bookkeeping or even non-client-facing work to support your client engagements).

What kind of tasks can you outsource to an administrative assistant?

Here’s a list of tasks you could delegate to your administrative assistant:

General admin

  1. Reporting
  2. Testing/quality control your software and processes
  3. Documenting the processes and standard operating procedures
  4. Alerting you to time-sensitive communications
  5. Maintaining your email inbox
  6. Creating and managing Dropbox/OneDrive/Google Drive
  7. Data entry and maintenance
  8. Creating online forms
  9. Capturing and managing metrics
  10. Configuring software

Back-office & financials

  1. Bookkeeping
  2. Client budget to actual tracking
  3. Managing inbound and outbound referral fees
  4. Preparing draft info for CPA

Building your reputation

  1. Publishing your content
  2. Repurposing your content
  3. Creating a content library
  4. Polishing your content (e.g., editing, graphics)
  5. Editing videos (e.g., add intro, add outro, add closed captioning)
  6. Maintaining your LinkedIn profile
  7. Manage your YouTube channel
  8. Produce your podcast
  9. Manage your social media platforms
  10. Maintaining your website
  11. Moderating comments
  12. SEO
  13. Researching publications and events

Business development

  1. Researching ideal clients to update your pipeline
  2. Researching conferences and other events
  3. Capturing and routing inbound requests
  4. Connecting with potential clients on LinkedIn
  5. Connecting with potential team members/referral partners on LinkedIn
  6. Sending follow-on messages to new LinkedIn connections
  7. Inviting LinkedIn connections to events
  8. Commenting on LinkedIn posts to drive your visibility
  9. Managing your LinkedIn message queue
  10. Reaching out to people on your business development plan
  11. Following up with people on your business development plan
  12. Connecting and following up after an event
  13. Drafting emails to your list
  14. Managing your email list
  15. Creating and managing lead magnets
  16. Sending follow-ups
  17. Sending thank you notes
  18. Sending gifts for referrals and introductions
  19. Pipeline administration
  20. Drafting proposals using your template
  21. Drafting contracts

Client delivery

  1. Preparing agendas
  2. Preparing drafts (using your templates)
  3. Conducting research
  4. Setting meetings
  5. Managing schedules
  6. Project administration
  7. Key milestone tracking and alerts

Client management

  1. Invoicing
  2. Managing late payment alerts
  3. Managing key contract dates
  4. Maintaining client info in a CRM or Google sheet
  5. Sending thank you cards, holiday cards, etc.

Personal tasks

  1. Organizing travel schedules and accommodations
  2. Placing grocery delivery orders
  3. Coordinating household maintenance
  4. Purchasing gifts

Why hire an administrative assistant?

An administrative assistant can take on the tasks that keep you from focusing on your core business activities. This can include:

  • Administrative tasks, such as managing your calendar, answering emails, and preparing invoices
  • Marketing tasks, such as creating content, designing graphics, and building links
  • Customer service tasks, such as updating project plans, or creating templates from your work so you can re-use and re-purpose

Benefits of hiring an administrative assistant for consultants

Why hire an administrative assistant?

Is it worth it, for both the cost and also the time it will take for you to get them hired, on-boarded and productive?

The short answer is almost always, yes it’s worth it if you avoid the common mistakes I’ll share with you later in this article.

An administrative assistant can free up anywhere from 5-20 hours in your month. Imagine how much more impactful you can be on income-producing activities if you free up those hours.

Here are some indicators you’re ready to hire an administrative assistant:

  • You can’t keep up with the back-end side of your business (e.g., bookkeeping, invoicing, staying visible)
  • You have established repeatable processes that you can shift to someone else to continue
  • You don’t yet have an expert to support you for specialty work (e.g., bookkeeping)

How to find an administrative assistant for your independent consulting business

So, how do you get started with bringing on an administrative assistant in your independent consulting business? Here are the four steps that I can recommend:

1. Start off with making a list of everything you could possibly delegate

For each task, ask yourself how you can make delegating it successful. How can you make it easy for the administrative assistant to understand and complete the task?

TIP: It's common to identify tasks that you could outsource, and then quickly talk yourself out of them. You might say things to yourself like:

  • I can just do that faster myself
  • That's sensitive information I don't feel comfortable sharing
  • I'm worried that this task might be too challenging to explain

If that happens, keep the task in your list and move to step number two.

2. Proactively force your brain to figure out how you can make delegating successful

Instead of worrying that a task might be too challenging to explain, think about how you can make delegating successful. For every task you could possibly delegate, ask yourself "how can I make delegating this successful? How can I make delegating this easy?"

3. Estimate the time each task would take on a weekly and monthly basis

After you create the list of tasks, estimate the time each would take on a weekly and monthly basis. This will give you an initial idea of all the scope for your administrative assistant. Then you can move to step number four.

4. Determine the type of administrative assistant(s) you’ll hire.

Now it's the time to determine the type of assistant that you need. Do you want someone who is readily available during normal working hours? Or, do you not care if they get their work done and respond within 12-24 hours? Do you want to bring on a generalist or one or more specialists? How much experience do they need to have?

There is no right answer, but having worked through the previous steps you probably already have an idea of what kind of administrative assistant is a good fit for your independent consulting business.

Mistakes to avoid when hiring an administrative assistant

When hiring an administrative assistant, there are a few mistakes to avoid. I've made many of these myself. In fact, I've hired four (4) executive assistants/virtual assistants in the course of my business. And it took 3 mis-hires before I found an Administrative Assistant who is a great match for me.

1. Hiring a brand-new administrative assistant who has no experience

The first mistake to avoid, especially if you’re hiring your first administrative assistant, is hiring a brand-new administrative assistant who has no experience.I've made this mistake and it ended up costing me a lot of cycles to train the person.

In the end, after several months of training, we both determined it wasn't a good fit. Looking back, I see that this was a mistake on my part. This was a direct result of me hiring someone without experience or knowledge of what an administrative assistant typically does.

2. Thinking too literally about “hiring”

You don’t need to hire a full-time employee in order to bring on an administrative assistant. You can bring on an administrative assistant in a variety of different ways (depending on your local rules and regulations). For example:

  • As a contractor - either a 1099 or via their own company
  • Paid through an agency

3. Not hiring soon enough

It’s a big shift from working in corporate to running your own business. One of the common challenges I find with ICs is that we don’t realize we’re now the ones calling the shots. We don’t need to wait for someone to approve a headcount for us. We don’t need to wait until someone approves a budget to hire. We are now the person who decides our headcount plan and budget. I recommend you decide in advance what your hiring plan will be, and to bring on an administrative assistant sooner than later to support you.

Don’t think about the cost and if you can afford it. Instead, think about the opportunity cost of you spending your time doing everything in your business. Ask yourself: what would freeing up one hour a week, let alone 10 hours a week, enable you to spend more time doing? What income-producing activities would you have time to tackle?

4. Hiring from desperation

And, similarly, if you want too long to hire, you can find yourself in a spot where you’re drowning in admin work, not keeping your presence up-to-date, missing opportunities to demonstrate your thought leadership, and neglecting those simple financial hygiene tasks that are critical to your short and long-term success.

When you wait too long and end up hiring from desperation, it almost always results in a “bad hire”, which then costs you more time.

5. Not clearly defining your non-starters

As you define the administrative assistant role(s) for your business, be sure that you list out the non-starters as it relates to hard and soft skills. Be clear for yourself as to what you’re willing to train and compromise on versus what you don’t. Doing so will help you find the right fit for you and your business.

6. Forgetting what you learned when you hired employees in your corporate roles

I find it’s common for independent consultants to experience “corporate amnesia.” We feel like we stepped out of that world and are starting over. And, in some ways that can be true. But don’t forget that you can transfer so many lessons learned into your consulting business. Be sure to capture what went well when you hired in your corporate roles, and what mistakes and lessons learned you had. Then, incorporate them into your administrative assistant hiring plan.

7. Not following your intuition

You are in charge. You get to decide who you hire, and you don’t need a “logical” reason to rule someone out. If your intuition is telling you that the person isn’t a good fit, then listen. Don’t overrule yourself.

8. Not taking the time to fully outline the tasks you want the administrative assistant to complete.

This can lead to miscommunication and a lack of clarity, which can lead to the administrative assistant not meeting your expectations. For example, when I hired one of my first administrative assistants, I chose to pick a few tasks she would start with, and I thought we could figure out the rest as we went. I chose to err on the side of paying on the higher end of the administrative assistant scale, with the expectation that the administrative assistant would be able to learn anything I needed her to. I quickly learned this was a mistake because (1) she didn't learn as fast as I expected and (2) she didn't have an interest in doing the tasks I added to her plate.

9. Don’t assume one administrative assistant is all you need

Consider hiring more than one administrative assistant and/or virtual assistant if you need specialized skills. You don't need to find a one-size-fits-all Administrative Assistant especially if you have a wide range of tasks you need an administrative assistant to fulfill. Get creative to hire one or more administrative assistants to support your needs. 

One way to do this is to hire a primary administrative assistant who can facilitate the process, and then have them manage other administrative assistants to do the specialized work. Or work with an agency that can introduce you to multiple administrative assistants who bring the specific skillsets you need.

10. Finally, be sure to focus on the personality fit in addition to the skills fit

Remember, the administrative assistant will be your right-hand person in many ways. You want to hire someone you enjoy interacting with, who you trust, and who you believe has a vested interest in your success as you do in theirs. Even if an administrative assistant looks perfect on paper, don't talk yourself into hiring them if anything feels off. It's worth it to invest the time to find a great fit.

How much does an administrative assistant cost?

The cost for administrative assistants varies widely based on the types of tasks you expect them to undertake, their location, and their support model. Generally speaking, administrative assistant rates typically range from $250 to $1000+ a month.

You can hire an administrative assistant on an hourly basis or a retainer.
In addition to the administrative assistant’s rates, you should also budget for any additional software licenses, email accounts, etc, for the administrative assistant to use in supporting you and your independent consulting company.

What are the best places to hire an administrative assistant?

 
 

One of the best ways to find an administrative assistant is to go through an agency. There are many reputable agencies that can connect you with qualified administrative assistants, and they take care of:

  • Background checks
  • Initial screening
  • Matching candidates to your list of requirements
  • Presenting 2-3 candidates for you to interview
  • Baseline training for the administrative assistant
  • Helping them to have equipment
  • Replacing the administrative assistant if they don't work out

Going this route typically costs a little more than hiring directly. But I've found that the added cost is beneficial, especially for offshore administrative assistants.

I've found success hiring onshore administrative assistants directly by:

  • Networking
  • Asking colleagues
  • Online groups and communities

How to interview administrative assistants for your consulting business before hiring them

So, how do you interview administrative assistants?

You can conduct a formal interview and also consider bringing them on for a (paid) project so you can evaluate the fit from both a skillset and personality perspective.

Some interview questions to ask your administrative assistant candidates include:

  1. What type of experience do they have? And what experience do they have specific to your requirements list?
  2. How many clients are they currently working with?
  3. How do they manage their workload across multiple clients?
  4. How do they handle urgent requests?
  5. How do they handle last-minute requests?
  6. How quickly do you typically respond to questions?
  7. What's their availability?
  8. What kind of tasks do they typically perform for other clients?
  9. What tasks do they not enjoy?
  10. How do they prefer to communicate (phone, email, Skype, etc.)?
  11. What do they find works best for status reporting?
  12. How often do they prefer meeting with their client and in what format?
  13. Describe challenges they've had with past clients and how did they resolve them?
  14. Have you had past experiences where your client changes the types of tasks they want you to work on? How did you handle this?
  15. What kind of equipment do they have? For example, do they have enough space on their laptop to handle your video editing projects?
  16. What is their fee structure?
  17. How do they handle unused hours at the end of the month (e.g., do they do or don't roll over)?

What should you do after hiring an administrative assistant?

 
 

This is the formula I’ve found works best to train an administrative assistant for your independent consulting business.

1. First, establish the onboarding plan

To establish the onboarding plan:

  • Leverage your job description and identify the highest priority, highest impact tasks that you want to transfer over
  • Figure out how you want to pace the transition from initial transition to completed transition

2. Meet with your administrative assistant

Then, meet with your administrative assistant to align on expectations, communication style, communication frequency, communication mechanisms, and your business objectives.

3. Create task-specific training

Here’s a method that works really well for your task-specific training:

  • Do each task yourself and record yourself doing it (I use the Loom app for this)
  • Add commentary on why you’re doing what you’re doing
  • Describe any decision points you make along the way
  • Explain your thought process
  • Explain why the task is important
  • Detail any downstream impacts
  • Send the recording to the administrative assistant and ask them to take on the task + document it as they go
    • Tip: my administrative assistant and I use the Asana tool to capture the step-by-step processes and set them up as recurring tasks that my administrative assistant then executes (daily, weekly, etc.)
  • Then, have the administrative assistant keep the process up to date as you refine and/or change the steps.

4. Agree to the communication plan

Communication with your administrative assistant is a critical success factor. I’m sure this comes as no surprise to you. But I do find that sometimes with the types of tasks we assign to the administrative assistant, it’s common that independent consultants want to delegate and forget it.

For success in managing your administrative assistant, be sure to have a solid communication plan in place, including:

  • Being clear on priorities
  • Due dates for recurring tasks
  • Additional projects and where they fit within the day-to-day
  • Administrative assistant input into the timelines and if they’re realistic
  • Checkpoints
  • Check-ins
  • Status reporting
  • Process for urgent items
  • How the administrative assistant will know it’s urgent
  • Turnaround times for anything urgent
  • Communication channel for urgent items

Mistakes to avoid in managing your administrative assistant

You’ve probably managed people in the past. With that, these mistakes that consultants often make in managing their administrative assistant won’t surprise you. Even then, it’s important to point them out as a reminder.

1. Delegate to your administrative assistant, don’t abdicate

Your Administrative Assistant is most likely handling tasks that you don’t want to do. It’s easy to assign them over and cross your fingers that the administrative assistant will do what you want them to do.

Instead of abdicating all responsibility, remember that you are the business owner and ultimately, you’re responsible for your full business. As such, be sure to put in the checkpoints and quality control checks that are appropriate for the task and the risk/impact level associated with that task.

2. Your administrative assistant can’t read your mind

Slow down enough to thoroughly explain what you’re thinking to the administrative assistant. I find that creating short videos is a great way to do this, so they can see what you’re showing them and hear your thought process.

3. Don’t discount your administrative assistant’s input

Create space for your administrative assistant to provide input on areas for improving your processes. They are seeing the day-to-day and can be an insightful resource for you and your business.

The best tools to work effectively with your newly hired administrative assistant

The next question that's natural to ask is, what are the best tools for the administrative assistant and you to work together efficiently and effectively? Here are my top recommendations:

Communication and training:

  • Loom – an easy tool to create and share videos. I use this to take videos of my screen to share processes with my VA and troubleshoot.
  • Voxer or WhatsApp - for simple back-and-forth conversations and questions
  • An email address on your domain (e.g., [email protected])

Access management:

  • LastPass – a simple way to share account access with your VA, without needing to give them (1) their own account/access to your tools, which can be an added expense or in some cases isn’t possible (e.g., LinkedIn) and (2) it makes it simple to revoke access when needed.

Tip: In the past, I set up admin accounts individually to give my VA access (e.g., to manage my website, create graphics in Canva, etc.). Then, it became incredibly time-consuming to change all of these when I let her go. Using LastPass keeps everything organized in one place for you so you can see everything the VA has access to and can turn it off if needed.

Tip: If you do use LastPass, you are sharing credentials to your login, so you need to make sure you’ve hired a VA you can trust.

Time-tracking tools:

The agency I’ve hired my VA through handles the time-tracking & invoicing side, so I don’t have a tool to specifically recommend here, but you can consider these options:

  • Toggl
  • Hubstaff
  • Harvest

Document sharing, and transferring large files:

  • Google Drive, and/or
  • Dropbox

Project and task management:

  • Airtable – dynamic spreadsheets & workflows; a great tool for content management, lightweight CRM
  • Asana – a great tool for project management, task management, workflow management, capturing recurring tasks/processes, lightweight CRM, content management (I use this tool for all my task management)
  • ClickUp – tool for project and task management, workflows; similar to Asana. I haven’t used this personally (because I use Asana) but have many colleagues who rave about it
  • Trello – great for managing projects, capturing SOPs and frameworks

Scheduling (clients, prospects, general business):

  • Acuity
  • Calendly

Graphics, stock photos:

  • Canva

Transcription:

  • Otter.ai – Great for capturing meeting notes. I use it for creating SRT files to add closed-captioning to videos. It can transcribe content (e.g., a video or audio) into written content for repurposing. I also like to use this to capture my thoughts in audio (e.g., when I’m driving or out for a walk) and then transfer them into written notes.

Frequently asked questions

 

How do I know if I’m ready to hire an administrative assistant for my consulting business?

Hiring an administrative assistant sooner than later can establish a strong infrastructure for you from the outset of your business.

When you hire an administrative assistant early on in your business, you free up time only you can spend on client delivery and business development.

I've found that many independent consultants wait for too long to hire an administrative assistant.

I know I waited too long.

Here are some common "thought errors" that I find independent consultants making about their time and their business:

  • They choose to delay the cost of an administrative assistant because they can do the tasks themselves. While, yes, you CAN do the task yourself, that doesn't mean you SHOULD.
  • Instead of thinking about the cash going out to pay an administrative assistant, think about the opportunity cost of the time you're spending on these tasks.

Should I hire an administrative assistant full-time or part-time/ freelance?

It’s rare for an independent consultant to need a full-time administrative assistant. Start off by contracting with a part-time assistant or freelancer who can support you.

Final thoughts

That’s the full playbook for hiring and managing an administrative assistant for your independent consulting business.

What I find is that the strategies and tactics (like leveraging an administrative assistant) can be relatively straightforward.

What becomes a bigger challenge is that independent consultants get in their own head and hold themselves back from accomplishing their goals (and more) with ease.

You might be thinking you’re:

  • Not yet “big enough” to hire an administrative assistant or
  • You don’t want the hassle or
  • You don’t want to spend the money

But, bringing on an administrative assistant can be a key to your longevity and success as an independent consulting business owner. When you find the right administrative assistant, you’ll
free up your capacity for higher value activities, lift the burden of administrative tasks you don’t enjoy doing, and be able to focus on where you make the most impact and fulfillment.

 

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